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Prosecutors appeal dismissal of Pittsburgh priest's conviction for sex abuse

Judges mallet Credit Zolnierek Shutterstock CNA Zolnierek/Shutterstock.

Allegheny County prosecutors are appealing a judge's decision to vacate the conviction of Fr. Hugh Lang, who is accused of having assaulted a boy in 2001.

On March 9 Allegheny County Commons Pleas Judge Anthony Mariani said he was granting Fr. Lang a new trial.

He said the priest had been denied a fair trial because the previous judge had allowed prosecutors to submit evidence that Fr. Lang had searched the internet for defense attorney shortly before the 2018 release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on allegations of clerical sex abuse of minors.

Prosecutors have said the internet search demonstrated “consciousness of guilt,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, while Mariani responded that the search could have been for other reasons, such as looking on behalf an accused colleague, or out of fear of being falsely accused.

He also said there is a right to search for and receive attorneys, which can't be used to demonstrate guilt.

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According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Assistant District Attorney Gregory Stein “said the evidence wasn’t the same as evidence that a suspect actually hired or consulted with an attorney, which appellate court rulings have said can’t be used against a defendant.”

Mariani had sentenced Fr. Lang to 9-24 months in jail, but delayed implementation.

The priest's accuser said that he was assaulted during an altar boy training at St. Therese of Lisieux parish in Munhall when he was 11. He said Fr. Lang molested and photographed him.

Fr. Lang, 89, has denied the abuse.

He was ordained in 1956, and retired in 2006.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh received the allegation against Fr. Lang in August 2018. His faculties are restricted.

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Following Mariani's decision to grant Fr. Lang a new trial, Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh said that “the Church … will wait until all court proceedings are completed before moving forward in its canonical process.”

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